Is MLK’s Legacy being Whitewashed?

Credits to: Joint Base Andrews (JBA)

Credits to: Joint Base Andrews (JBA)

Disclaimer: The following is an Opinion Piece from The Echo’s Editorial Section. An opinion piece is one in which a writer expresses a firmly developed opinion that is supported by study, reasoning, and circumstantial evidence. It’s a writer’s approach of expressing both what they believe and why they believe it. As a result, any opinions stated in by-lined editorials reflect the author’s views, not the administration or student body of GALA.

Martin Luther King: an inspirational icon and activist who is still remembered to this day. His legacy of abolishing segregation and fighting for equality for people of color is the reason why we live in unison. However in recent times people have been claiming that his legacy has been whitewashed and used for all the wrong reasons.

Before continuing, let me break down whitewashing, and how it works. Whitewashing can occur via many different forms, including artwork, films, textbooks, and even social media. According to Shape, whitewashing is “to alter (something) in a way that favors, features, or caters to white people.” The process of whitewashing usually works by either replacing, eliminating, or altering something for or by people of color so that white people can benefit from it.

So, how does any of this relate to Dr. King? Well, in recent times, his legacy has been questioned and altered by people – but has it been whitewashed? In my personal opinion, no, it hasn’t. DallasWeeky mentions an incident of supposed whitewashing: in 2016, the Washington Post reported that then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed decided to address the actions of a group of people who planned on blocking off a freeway in protest of the killing of Philando Castille. Reed stated that while he believed in the expressive rights of the protestors, he requested that they not block off freeways.“The only thing I ask is that they not take the freeways,” Reed said. “Dr. King would never take a freeway.” However, according to TheRoot, a notable example of Dr. King blocking the highway can be found in the Selma to Montgomery march.

The reason why I don’t believe this to be whitewashing is because certain requirements aren’t met. Yes, people of color were eliminated from protesting for justice, however, the decision behind canceling the protest didn’t only benefit white people. I’m pretty sure more people besides white people were affected by the freeway being closed off. Also, the mayor was a person of color himself. The decision of shutting down the protest benefited anyone who was caught up in the protest traffic.

There are some cases that do support the claim of whitewashing King’s legacy. Vox brought up another incident of supposed whitewashing, in which then-press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted on MLK Day in 2019, “Today we honor a great American who gave his life to right the wrong of racial inequality. Our country is better thanks to his inspiration and sacrifice.” The tweet failed to recognize that King was assassinated at the young age of 39. King did not “give his life” to white supremacy; white supremacy took it. Sanders’ statement also failed to acknowledge how King’s death set off riots across the country and effectively undermined the civil rights movement that he helped lead. A user named Mary Wilson then commented under the post, “He was assassinated, Sarah.”

It seems like the meaning of Dr. King’s legacy is being changed every day. The reasons behind these alterations are unknown to people. I personally believe that, in some cases, the term whitewashing is appropriate, and in other cases, it’s completely off the table of possibilities. The decision is ultimately up to you. What do you think? Do you think his legacy is being “whitewashed?”